How Alastair Discovered And Embraced The Reformed Confession

Introduction
Alastair Herd is a 2019 graduate of the University of Warwick (BSc, Chemistry), who has worked as a research technician. He is currently between positions as he recovers from an, as yet, undiagnosed illness with a range of symptoms. He is thankful to God for a loving family, physical and spiritual, and for their support through this time. Your prayers are much appreciated.

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1. Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Kent in the UK, in a town half an hour or so from London. Before university I had lived their my whole life. I was not raised in a Christian family by any means. My Dad is an ardent atheist—his Mum is a Catholic—and though my parents divorced when I was in Primary School (Elementary School), and I lived with my Mum and Stepdad they are just as atheistic. My secondary education was at a private international school in my town where, to my knowledge, there was 1 Christian (to whom I had barely spoken) a few Buddhists, 5–10 Muslims in my academic year of over 200. I can safely say that I had a slightly skewed view of the number of religious people out there. I went on from there to do my Undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Warwick.
2. How did you come to faith?

In my first year of University I was in halls with an open Evangelical Christian—my first real encounter—and I was surprised to find that despite her being my stereotype of what backwards Christians were (e.g., a Young Earth Creationist) she was very intelligent and thought through. In the month after my end of year exams I started to speak with her more in full and instead of her crumbling under my questions about her faith she answered them easily and turned questions back to me. When I realised that my belief set didn’t make sense I asked her for some things to read, so she gave me a couple of apologetics books and her Bible. I finished the books and the Gospels in a couple of days and was generally convinced that it was all historically true, and also that I wasn’t a Christian. So as I went home she recommended me a Conservative Evangelical Anglican Church (St. Nicks) near my home and within the first few weeks I was saved and, after finishing the Bible, was baptised by that Christmas (to my family’s horror).

3. How did you come into contact with what people call “the doctrines of grace” and how did you respond?

I came into contact very early on, as St. Nicks was excellent at preaching the gospel and they were preaching through Ephesians (no way to avoid them there). Initially, it made me extremely angry. I wondered how on earth a good God could create people for hell—thinking most specifically of friends and family that had died in unbelief—or why God would save me but not my family. I searched for every trick in the book to avoid the doctrines of grace, however, I couldn’t deny that it was what the Bible taught and so after several months I eventually begrudgingly accepted them. Of course, over time they moved from a begrudging truth to a great hope and joy.

4. Where did that lead you to church?

When I went back up to University for my next year, I was recommended a Baptist Church there by a Minister, as the local Anglican Church there was a on a liberal slope. That Church was excellent and Confessional (1689). The lead Pastor later left to become President of London Seminary. After most Sunday morning services, they would have Sunday school going through a variety of topics, from theology to Church history, during which I was able to flesh out much of my theology. Going through the 1689 and the precision that it offered I was convinced of doctrines within it—even if I didn’t necessarily understand the underpinnings. The Sunday school session on baptism pointed out the proof-text weakness of the paedobaptist argument, and as that was largely how I thought doctrine should be developed I came down on that side. Though I did still have questions about the differences between Anglicans and Baptists, it was explained to me mostly as people clinging to traditions rather than having actually thought about the implications of baptism and ecclesiology.

5. What changed your mind on baptism?

I’d started listening to the White Horse Inn after my first year of being a Christian and found it be a tremendous help, though I never really thought about why denominations differed other than a different reading of certain proof-texts. Then their episode on “Discussing Our Differences on Baptism” came out and I started to realise that it was actually a much more significant covenantal understanding, something I hadn’t really thought about before. Somehow I came across the Heidelblog searching online and then your wonderful series “I Will Be A God To You And To Your Children” and I thought that it made a huge amount of sense! I spoke to the pastor my Baptist Church and asked him if he could give me some resources, so he recommended me Pascal Denault’s book The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, which really convinced me of Reformed Covenant theology, especially when he started exegeting Galatians backwards, talking about Abraham being in a covenant of works.

6. What was your biggest struggle in adopting the Reformed confession regarding redemptive history, covenant, church, and sacraments?

For the most part I found the Reformed confessions highly intuitive. The Heidelberg Catechism drips with theological depth, pastoral grace and a realism of the Christian experience, which is a combination hard to find in much modern writing. The Westminster Standards had a clarity that exceeded the LBCF and helped me to see why baptism and communion are in fact sacraments and not just ordinances. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for me was understanding how the Mosaic Covenant fit into redemptive history, as while it was obvious to me that Abraham was the model of the faithful, I struggled with grasping how the Old Covenant could simultaneously be part of the Covenant of Grace and yet be so filled with works (WCF 7:5,6). The most helpful thing for me with regards to that was the excellent OPC report on Republication, which helped to explain how Christ is the substance of the covenant and what the role of the law was in it.

7. Tell us about your present congregation.

After search online I found that there was a Presbyterian Church (EPCEW) within 30 minutes of me (which is a big deal in England, given how few there are) and, after having some chats with the pastor of my Baptist Church, I moved there and found it to be everything I dreamed of. Though, as this was the last year of my time at university, I moved back home afterwards. My present congregation is a London City Presbyterian (A Free Church of Scotland plant), where I became a member a couple of months ago. They are a wonderful gathering of believers who have warmly welcomed me, and despite being part of the Free Church only a small minority are actually Scottish. As the minister has been going through Numbers in the morning service it has been such a clear blessing to me as a Christian to be able to see Christ as the heart of Gods dealings with his people at all times and to open up the Old Testament as a truly Christian book.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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6 comments

  1. I enjoyed this piece very much! God is indeed at work! It warms my soul to see God work in places that you would never expect. Tell Alistair that I had one of those mystery, huge range of symptom illnesses — and if he is drinking green smoothies, eating too many nuts and almond bread, — STOP. I won’t bore you with the details unless he asks. But I’m fully recovered and more.

  2. I am confused about how Pascal Denault’s book, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology changed his mind about Reformed covenant theology. Is it that he saw the error of Denault’s teaching: that the Abrahamic covenant was a covenant of works promising the reward of the land of Canaan and a revelation of the covenant of grace, but it was not the covenant of grace. Reformed covenant teaching is that the Abrahamic covenant is the new covenant that was fulfilled in Christ and that the old covenant people of God were under a different administration of the covenant of grace, but that it was the covenant of grace nonetheless, under that different administration. The covenant of grace was administered under the types and shadows of the old, Mosaic covenant, but under the new covenant we have the fulfillment in Christ.
    Pascal Denault’s view is that the covenant of grace did not come into effect until the new covenant in Christ, so it is very different from the Reformed view. He sees discontinuity in the way God deals with his people, whereas the Reformed view is that the covenant of grace unites all of Scripture. As
    Denault writes on page 67, “the Baptists completely rejected the paedobaptist model of the covenant of grace.”

    • Angela,

      I’ve seen this before, where people are faced with the stark choice between the Reformed approach (one covenant of grace, multiple administrations) and the Particular Baptist theology, which turns Abraham into a covenant of works and they flee the Particular Baptist position for the historic Reformed position. The PB view being articulated so clearly by Denault and others is pushing some toward the Reformed confession.

    • My story is similar. I am a member (long story) of a 1689 baptist church (grew up in the PCA) and have had many conversations with the pastor regarding baptism and covenant theology. His recommended reading and discussions while intended to drive me towards to the 1689 LBC, have actually clarified my views and has brought me to a much deeper understanding of Reformed doctrine.

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